Ultimately, the formation of a new government in Egypt should be about one word: Competency. But the current nature of politics substitutes another word entirely: Sisi. Local analysis revolves around the question of what the development means in terms of the defense minister’s anticipated candidacy for president, and when he will take off his uniform to announce it.
Egyptians have been waiting for some time to know the answer, and Coptic Christians are among the most expectant.
“If Sisi is a candidate I will definitely support him,” said Naguib Abadir, a Coptic founding member of the secular Free Egyptians Party. “Egypt needs a president with charisma and who commands the respect of the people.”
But not all as are enthusiastic:
This endorsement extended to the person of Sisi, celebrated in posters plastered everywhere on Egyptian streets. “They come to the streets and make a festival, carrying Sisi pictures and saying to him, ‘Come and rule Egypt.’” But while Madgy admitted many Coptic civil society leaders will likely vote for Sisi, some in the Maspero Youth Union are offended at the billing of Sisi as a revolutionary candidate. The goals of the revolution – bread, freedom, and social justice – have not yet been achieved, he explained, so how can we celebrate?
And a segment is outright opposed:
Samaan also supported the removal of Morsi, but finds the actions of the military amount to a coup. Sisi is not to be trusted, he believes. The constitution is good, but Samaan questions whether or not it will be applied. The military establishment poised to run the country once again is the same body that served under Mubarak, he said, and that regime was no friend of Copts, nor honored the constitution.
From the conclusion:
But these are worries for another day. Copts, like most Egyptians, long for stability and have placed their hope in the military to see the country through these troubled times. If initial signs are worrisome to those in the West, Egyptians plead for patience. The nation has changed after January 25, they say, and cannot go back to the status quo.
In the meanwhile, yet another post-revolutionary government is asked to prove it. A Sisi presidency will likely settle the question either way, but for the most part, Copts have embraced the optimism.
Please click here to discover the rationale behind each opinion, and read the whole article at Egypt Source.
Coptic Christians have reason to celebrate… alone. While they and many others rejoice at the removal of the overall Islamist tinge of the 2012 constitution, this largely liberal-produced draft leaves other religious minorities out in the cold.
“One of the main concerns we have is that freedom of religion is limited to the heavenly religions,” said Chris Chapman, noting the non-recognition of Egyptian Baha’is in particular. “Freedom of religion is absolute and there should be no exclusion.”
The current draft of the constitution, slated for referendum on January 14, makes absolute the freedom of belief. Practicing religious rites and building houses of worship, however, is limited to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
But the article is not an analysis of the constitution but a description of why the largely liberal drafting committee did not secure greater rights for all, and what might be necessary for Egypt to fall in line with the international agreements it has signed. The interview is with Chris Chapman of Minority Rights Group, who recently presented his findings in Cairo.
From the conclusion:
If this constitution, however, does not fully satisfy liberal activists, a long term focus is necessary to transform a repressive environment to one respectful of human rights. “It happens gradually,” Chapman assured, “as a process of consultation and negotiation. I see Egypt as moving in the right direction, but it hasn’t got there 100 percent yet.”
Until it does, Chapman has the advantage of calling from the outside for both the rule of law and proper legislation. He urges activists and citizens alike to lobby for the rights of Copts, Baha’is, Shia, and others, but the ultimate onus falls on the government.
“This is international human rights law,” Chapman said. “If Egypt is going to live up to its obligations it must respect freedom of religion and belief.”
Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.
Egyptian Christians will soon have a law to regulate church building. But this is only one achievement celebrated by Copts in the revised national charter scrubbed of most of its Islamist tinge.
“Christians have freedom of belief and practice,” said Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a member of the constitutional committee. “And for the first time in the history of Egypt’s constitutions, building churches becomes a right.”
Article 235 of the new draft constitution addressed this longstanding complaint, where permission to build or repair required presidential and security authorization.
Egypt’s constitution of 2012, written by an Islamist majority under the now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi, also provided for many personal and religious freedoms. But that text included clauses of limitation “according to shari’ah law.”
Please click here to read how limitations on freedom were removed – or not – from the constitution, at Christianity Today.
Maryam Milad disappeared in 2012. Last seen in the church of St. Anthony in Shubra, her father believes his now eighteen year old daughter has been kidnapped and perhaps married off to a Salafi Muslim somewhere. Police, he says, have been uncooperative.
“I plead with all the authorities in Egypt,” he said at a prayer meeting highlighting more than a dozen similar cases. “Put yourselves in the place of us parents.”
According to Ebram Louis, founder of the Association for the Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearances (AVAED), this is just the tip of the iceberg. He has documented 500 such cases since the revolution.
The article describes his process of documentation, and reveals interesting statistics from AVAED’s findings:
But according to AVAED chief field researcher George Nushi, up to 60 percent of all cases are [stemming from initial love relations]. Most of these, he said, involve Muslims of bad intention. The girl becomes infatuated, but then she is told she cannot go home again.
There are violent cases, but they are limited in number. Even so, AVAED sees religious extremism involved prominently:
“We do not say ‘kidnapping’ in the beginning,” he said, “We say ‘disappearance.’” Nushi says only 5 percent of girls suffered violent kidnappings in the traditional sense.
How does he then have such certainty that malevolent, organized Salafi groups are involved? Of their 500 cases, ten have escaped to tell their story. These stories reveal patterns which indicate similar activity, locations, and even phone numbers.
This issue requires deep research and understanding of the Egyptian social and cultural settings, far deeper than the scope of this article. But please click here to read the rest at Egypt Source.
From Christianity Today, an interview with Ron Sider, who compiled every early church writing on the subject of killing:
It’s not just just-war theory versus pacifism. The book covers war, capital punishment, gladiatorial games, infanticide, abortion, and so forth. Did the early Christian writers tie those together, or did they treat them as separate ethical issues?
They definitely tied them together. A number of times different authors—like Lactantius writing at the time of the Diocletian persecution, and earlier writers—are very clear. They explicitly say we don’t kill, and that means we don’t go to gladiatorial games, we’re opposed to abortion, capital punishment is not acceptable, and we don’t kill in war.
Did the early Christians oppose capital punishment as a social institution? Or did they just say that a Christian couldn’t be an executioner or a magistrate who might give someone a death sentence?
For early church fathers, a Christian could not have a political or judicial office where he would have the authority to pronounce a judgment of capital punishment.
They clearly stated the latter. They said Christians cannot participate in capital punishment. For them, a Christian could not have a political or judicial office where he would have the authority to pronounce a judgment of capital punishment.
Similarly, in the unanimous testimony of early Christian writers, this means Christians should not join the army:
Let’s talk about the reasons early Christians abstained from bloodshed: They talked about Jesus’ command to love our enemies, about the Mosaic command not to kill, and about the prophecy of messianic peace. Is any one of those reasons foundational to the rest?
Their most frequent statement is that killing is wrong. Killing a human being is simply something that Christians don’t do, and they’ll cite the Micah passage or Jesus’ “love your enemies” to support that. But the clear statement that Christians don’t kill is the foundation.
The most frequently stated reason that Christians didn’t join the army and go to war is that they didn’t kill. But it’s also true that in Tertullian, for example, idolatry in the Roman army is a second reason for not joining the military. But it’s not true that idolatry is the primary or exclusive reason that the early Christians refused to join the military. More often they just say killing is wrong.
But here is the rub for Egypt. The Coptic Orthodox Church honors the early church fathers, and I have not interacted with this issue to know how they treat this testimony. I would imagine that as the Catholic Church in the Roman Empire eventually came close enough to the centers of power, the Copts also developed a just war doctrine. Certainly they have a number of ‘soldier saints’ among their martyrs.
But for modern day Copts, the fact of participation in the army is often touted by political Islamists as the chief justification why the Islamic jizia tax is no longer required.
Sharia law required ‘People of the Book’ to submit to their Muslim rulers and exempted them from participation in the military in exchange for this tax. Within this system they were given the promise of domestic protection and freedom of worship within the status of second-class citizenship.
But those wars were for the benefit of the Muslim caliphate. The modern state of Egypt has a national army for defense of the borders. Two hundred years ago jizia was abolished and Copts served alongside their Muslim neighbors in the army.
But if per Sider’s testimony that proper Biblical understanding, as evidenced by the early church fathers, forbids a Christian from killing, this ‘arrangement’ is undone. If Copts sense they should abstain from war, does this open the door for the radical Islamist argument of restored jizia?
No Copt that I know of argues for conscientious objection, which does not exist in Egypt anyway, as best I know. Of course, like most Egyptians, like most humans, Copts are very reticent to kill. But they do not forbid it in the context of national duty.
But for any Christian pacifists outside of Egypt, which would you choose? You are only a pacifist out of conviction, of course, so I suspect it is unlikely you would balk at the imposition of a special tax for your refusal to fight. But would you accept the ‘second-class citizen’ part? Would you accept to be ruled by sharia law?
Even in the early days Christians faced the pragmatic question on pacifism. Here is the less than pragmatic answer:
It’s significant that Origen in the middle of the third century, 248–250, responds to the pagan critic Celsus. Celsus said, If everybody was like you Christians, the Roman Empire would collapse. Origen responded, if everybody was like us, the Roman Empire would be safe, and we wouldn’t need to kill people. So in the middle of the third century, the most prominent Christian author writing at the time responded in a way that only makes sense if Christians by and large didn’t join the military.
But the idea ‘if everyone was like us’ is woefully unrealistic. It is as if they say, please, join our movement and usher in the fall of our Empire.
Would an imagined pacifist Copt similarly argue to usher in the fall of our citizenship?
I am curious to know how church leaders today would interact with this issue.
In Egypt’s current political struggle both sides are using the media to highlight their interpretation of events. State media is accused of turning the nation against the democratically elected president and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, anti-Islamists target Western media in particular of having a bias toward the Brotherhood, against the military, and neglect the popular role in Morsi’s overthrow.
This survey was designed to test one overlapping segment within this struggle to establish a media narrative: foreign Christian residents.
Two assumptions were made of this community. First, they would be sympathetic to local Coptic opinion, which is strongly anti-Islamist. Second, they would be consumers of Western media and generally trust their journalistic professionalism.
Thirty-three individuals were surveyed, including both leaders and laity of the Catholic and Protestant foreign communities of Egypt. They were asked fifteen questions concerning recent political events beginning with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president. Each question was provided various options, reflecting the opinions and conspiracies of both camps.
Participants were allowed to choose more than one answer, if multiple interpretations were possible. They were asked only to choose according to their leanings and perceptions, not according to an elusive certainty or proof. Not all participants answered each question. In the results which follow, this explains why some percentages are provided with the qualifier ‘among those responding’.
Here are the questions as they were posed to participants:
1. Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?
2. Were Egypt’s political problems caused by:
The desire of the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate
The deliberate non-cooperation of opposition parties
Normal competition after a revolution
3. Were Egypt’s economic problems caused by:
State sabotage of gas and supplies
Continuing deterioration since the revolution
4. Did Western powers support Morsi because:
He was the legitimately elected president
They desired the Muslim Brotherhood to replace Mubarak
They desired Islamist rule to weaken Egypt
They desired to discredit Islamism by letting it rule temporarily
5. Did Morsi and the Brotherhood desire:
To turn Egypt into an Islamic state
To recreate the Mubarak regime
To shepherd in a civil democracy
6. Was the Rebellion (tamarrud) Campaign:
A grass-roots movement expressing popular rejection
Aided by the military/state/businessmen
A conspiracy to end the Morsi presidency early
7. Should the military have:
Intervened to depose Morsi as actually happened
Waited longer to see how things would develop
Not intervened at all
8. Was the military action a coup d’etat?
9. Was the removal of Morsi:
Mostly positive for Egypt
Mostly negative for Egypt
Both positive and negative in different ways
Necessary for Egypt
10. Should the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site:
Have been dispersed
Have been relocated to another area
Have been left to protest indefinitely
11. Why did so many people die:
Because of deliberate excess force used by the security services
Because of poor training in crowd control
Because of pro-Morsi armed resistance
12. Were the widespread attacks on Christians and their churches:
Orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
A spontaneous reaction by pro-Morsi supporters
The action of criminals exploiting the situation
A conspiracy by the state to tarnish the Islamists
13. Should the Muslim Brotherhood:
Be labeled as a terrorist organization, banned, and prosecuted
Be invited into national reconciliation
Be allowed to participate in the new democratic roadmap
Be forbidden from politics but allowed a social role
14. Does the military desire:
To rule directly (perhaps through a retired general)
To have influence and guardianship from behind the scenes
To maintain its economic privileges
To secure a true and open democratic transition
To destroy the Muslim Brotherhood
To prevent Islamist rule in general
15. Will the coming months/years in Egypt witness:
The development of an emerging democracy
The return of an autocratic state
New economic prosperity
Continued economic deterioration
A reversal back to Islamist rule (democratic or otherwise)
Low-level, but violent Islamic insurgency
War (either civil or regional)
Each possibility was given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice to indicate the perception of the participant.
Here are the key findings:
Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?
52% said yes, 48% said no, roughly mirroring his percentage of winning
Egypt’s political problems were caused by:
97% of all surveyed believed it was due to the MB’s desire to dominate
45% also blamed deliberate non-cooperation on the part of the opposition
36% attributed it to normal competition after a revolution
Egypt’s economic problems were caused by:
82% blamed Morsi’s mismanagement
42% also blamed a state policy of sabotage
82% believed the poor economy following the revolution played a role
Western powers supported Morsi because:
73% believed it was because they recognized him as the legitimately elected leader
24% believed they desired the MB to continue Mubarak’s policies, with 9% support for other conspiracy theories
The political desire of the Muslim Brotherhood was:
100% to turn Egypt into an Islamic state
0% to turn Egypt into a civil democracy
The Tamarud Campaign was:
82% believed it to be a grass roots campaign
But 67% believed it also to be sponsored by the army, state, or businessmen
Even so, respondents divided evenly if it was a conspiracy to remove Morsi from power, though only 30% of everyone surveyed indicated this
On military intervention to depose Morsi:
70% agree with their decision to do so, as opposed to waiting longer or doing nothing
But 47% call it a coup anyway, while 53% believe it does not deserve that label
93% of those responding believe this action was mostly positive for Egypt
75% find that it was also somewhat negative
85% believed it was necessary
On dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-in:
79% agreed with the decision to do so
88% believe that many people died due to the MB’s decision to resist with arms
45% also believed the security forces deliberately used excess force
48% believed poor training on the part of the security forces contributed
On the subsequent attacks on churches:
76% believe these were orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
58% believe it was a spontaneous action by Morsi supporters
48% also thought criminal elements were involved
9% believe it was at least also a state conspiracy to make Islamists look bad
The Muslim Brotherhood should be:
42% believed it should be labeled a terrorist organization and banned
Only 27% opposed this designation
Responders were roughly divided between inviting them to national reconciliation and allowing them political participation in the new elections, with slightly more positive response
The military desires:
Of those responding, 59% did not believe the military wants to rule directly
But 73% believe they want to maintain significant influence behind the scenes, and 52% to maintain their economic interests (0% opposition to this idea)
Of responders, 60% believe the military wants to conduct an open democratic transition, but 40% do not
48% believe they want to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, and 61% believe they want to prevent Islamist rule in general
The future holds:
48% of all and 73% of responders are confident a real democracy will begin to emerge
At the same time, of those responding, half fear the return of another autocratic system
55% believe the economy will continue to deteriorate, with only 27% predicting new prosperity
Only 3% predict a return to Islamist rule, but 79% predict a continued low-level Islamist insurgency
9% predict war in Egypt’s near-term future
In quick summary, therefore, this sample of foreign Christian residents of Egypt indicates the community largely accepts the anti-Islamist narrative concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, while at the same time displaying significant, but not universal, distrust about the role and intentions of the military and state.
Determining whether their perceptions are correct or incorrect was not the goal of this survey. Rather, results indicate the following possibilities:
Foreign Christian residents are disproportionately influenced by local anti-Islamist sentiment or their own anti-Islamist inclinations
Western media has not exhibited sufficient pro-Islamist bias to sway their interpretation of events, but has contributed to a distrust of local actors
As residents, these foreign Christians are well placed to interpret local events.
Other interpretations are also possible, including combinations of these three.
Western media is understood to be professional in its coverage, though subject to the ability to find suitable local spokesmen to convey perspectives. Most actors in Egypt are polarized and subject to their own biases.
Egyptian state media, however professional, is understood to be the voice of the government, and independent media has been drawn into the local dispute. Pro-Islamist media has largely been shut down.
In wading between the two, one further assumption is necessary concerning foreign Christian residents: They will represent the truth as they perceive it. The value of this survey consists therein.
Of the troubles that Copts face, this may portend the worst. A wedding celebration in a working-class Cairo neighborhood church suffered a drive-by shooting. Five died, including two children and the mother of the groom.
Church buildings have been attacked. Land disputes may be disguised criminal aggression. But rarely has anyone shot to kill.
God, may this attack be only an exception. Against Copts, and against anyone, do not let political frustrations boil over into random acts of pointed violence.
Frustrations are many. Islamist groups condemned the attack, blaming security instead for failing to secure the church. But as frustrated as these groups are with the security clampdown against them, their opponents are frustrated by Islamist obstinacy in the face of widespread rejection.
And within this mix is continued anti-Coptic sentiment.
God, purify the political scene. For the sake of so much more, but including this, bring Egypt a new prosperity that restores both hope and civil participation. Sort out the right and the wrong between Islamists and the state, but keep the people from descending into hatred.
For surely it is hatred which drove someone to this crime.
Help the Copts to forgive, God. Transform their grief and anger into something redemptive. Bind together all in the aggrieved neighborhood, and produce a subsequent unity that will amaze the nation.
But also bring justice. Do it with transparency so that all my see the sin and recoil from it. Otherwise accusations may simply multiply the political frustrations contributing to this downward spiral.
For if such acts continue the nation may halt. Keep terror far from the people. Keep the peace in Egypt, God.
I never met Mina Daniel, but today many in Egypt consider him a hero and a martyr. Recently, I met his sister.
Two years ago this week, the 20-year-old Daniel was gunned down during a peaceful Coptic protest outside the Maspero state TV headquarters in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011. More than 25 others died and scores were injured by military vehicles swerving through the crowded demonstration, or by local thugs who attacked the scattering remnants.
To this date, only a few low-level officers have been handed sentences, ranging from two to three years in prison.
Commemorating the massacre, Copts gathered in the Cave Church of Muqattam in the mountains outside Cairo, a scene of many interdenominational prayer services. Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands of Muslims and Christians marched together to Maspero from Shubra, a northern Cairo district with a high percentage of Coptic residents.
The religious unity of both events was just as Daniel would have wanted it.
“Mina didn’t care if you were a Mina [a typical Coptic name] or a Muhammad,” his sister Marry told me. “He dealt with everyone as created in the image of God.”
Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.
From the Atlantic Council, following the Muslim Brotherhood’s English and Arabic discourse on Dalga, an Upper Egyptian village seized by Islamists and recently recovered by the security forces:
The Muslim Brotherhood has been quick to roll the Dalga raid into an on-going crackdown on the organization and its supporters, but has once again offered different reactions in English and in Arabic. Arabic Brotherhood media outlets make no mention of the sectarian violence that Christians in Dalga faced. In fact, they have gone so far as to accuse Copts in Dalga of lying to gain the sympathy of the world.
On the Freedom and Justice Party’s official website, they write: “A number of Christian families started to spread false news about being detained by locals of the village as hostages and claimed that some of the village residents burned their churches. The Coptic Diaspora exploited the news to prepare the international community, particularly, American politicians for a new massacre in Dalga.
The article shows a screenshot of the FJP website, and then continues:
In contrast in English, the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office sent a statement to journalists condemning the attacks on Dalga’s Copts, expressing “solidarity” with their “Christian brothers and sisters.”
The Brotherhood’s official website, Ikhwanweb, similarly condemned the attacks on Christians, expressing solidarity with Dalga’s Copts, and called on authorities to “protect all citizens and places of worship.”At the same time, however, the statement placed the blame of the sectarian attacks on the military and ‘thugs’. The official statement read:
“The Muslim Brotherhood strongly condemn attacks on places of worship, including attacks on Egyptian Copts and churches as well as indiscriminate attacks on the innocent civilians in Dalga by the military junta, which it claims to protect Christians from “Islamist Militants.” This is part of the military junta’s propaganda to push for sectarian strife and justify their atrocities against the innocent people of Dalga for their fierce opposition of the military coup.”
Of course, it is possible the Brotherhood’s opponents are also using doublespeak. On the one hand they are terrorists; on the other, they are invited to be part of the nation’s democratic transition.
But in claiming a religious higher ground, the Muslim Brotherhood only reveals a deeper hypocrisy. In a war of propaganda it is good to be reminded regularly of such discrepancies. Here, a pundit offers her advice to all.
“We learned that extremists were going to attack us with machine guns, but we did not prepare ourselves for the attack with weapons. We did something simple,” says Bishop Thomas, about that day he received a message that armed hardliners were on their way to his episcopal residence in the Al Quosia-region of Lower Egypt.
Determined to defend themselves without violent means, the church fathers applied soap and water on the rocky path leading to Bishop Thomas’ residence.
“I saw them coming with their machine guns far down the road. They tried to get to the house, but they slipped and fell. They tried over and over again, without succeeding,” says the Bishop, smiling with grief as he talks about the episode.
The grief is over the many homes in his diocese which were attacked. But he is resisting the urge to demonize:
“Fear and anger does not come in my heart. Fear is the biggest enemy – this makes you lose wisdom and power,” said the Bishop gently when asked about the impact of the violence on life as a Copt. “Hatred is the biggest disease – full of revenge and the source of all evil.”
Doing so enables him to take a path different from many Copts, who have embraced the current crackdown on Islamists:
“I need to embrace the victims with love and communicate forgiveness. When the worst assaults are over, my task is to promote and facilitate reconciliation,” said the Bishop calmly while smiling. “The Coptic church is training people to see the situation from different perspectives, we teach them the difference between autocracy and democracy, and the meaning of a civil state. We are working against both a religious – and a marshal state.”
The attacks, some might say paradoxically, have brought the Muslims and Christians of his area closer together:
“Poor Muslim families brought blankets to the Christians who lost their homes, and together we formed a civil front– not Christians against Muslims– but civil society against extremism,” explained the Bishop.
Among the issues discussed jointly were defense-tactics and how to prevent any new attacks.
Images and video-clips from Muslims and Christians, who hand in hand formed a protective ring circle around churches, were shared on social media across the globe.
“No one who has not experienced sectarian violence close up will be able to imagine what this solidarity means to us, as a society,” said Bishop Thomas gratefully. “We did actually lose hope under Morsi. Now we are hoping and praying that the price Copts are paying now will benefit generations of Egyptians in the future.”
Here in Maadi, Cairo, life goes on as normal amid the political instability. This town in Minya is not so fortunate. From the AP:
A town of some 120,000 — including 20,000 Christians — Dalga has been outside government control since hard-line supporters of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi drove out police and occupied their station on July 3, the day Egypt’s military chief removed the president in a popularly supported coup. It was part of a wave of attacks in the southern Minya province that targeted Christians, their homes and businesses.
Since then, the radicals have imposed their grip on Dalga, twice driving off attempts by the army to send in armored personnel carriers by showering them with gunfire.
Local Christians are particularly suffering, at least those who have not fled:
Among the homes torched was that of Father Angelos, an 80-year-old Orthodox priest who lives close to the monastery. Yoannis’ home was spared a similar fate by his Muslim neighbors. A 60-year-old Christian who fired from his roof to ward off a mob was dragged down and killed, the activists said.
“Even if we had firearms, we would be reluctant to use them,” said Yoannis. “We cannot take a life. Firing in the air may be our limit.”
Those who remain pay armed Muslim neighbors to protect them. Yoannis said his brother paid with a cow and a water buffalo. Most Christian businesses have been closed for weeks.
Armed men can be seen in the streets, and nearly every day Islamists hold rallies at a stage outside the police station, demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.
Most Christians remain indoors as much as possible, particularly during the rallies. They say they are routinely insulted on the streets by Muslims, including children. Christian women stay home at all times, fearing harassment by the Islamists, according to multiple Christians who spoke to the AP. Most requested that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.
“The Copts in Dalga live in utter humiliation,” said local rights activist Ezzat Ibrahim. “They live in horror and cannot lead normal lives.”
The Islamic concept of jizia requires non-Muslims to pay a tax in exchange for their protection. Many Muslims argue today this principle is no longer applicable, as Christians join in the army and jointly defend their nation.
But here the Copts have no share nor desire to defend their village with these Islamists against the army. Therefore, it appears, the concept of jizia is demanded from them.
Here is an example of their protector, the man guarding the monastery-church:
At intervals, the 33-year-old father of three would stop talking, move carefully to the edge of a wall and stick his head out to check if someone was coming.
His big worry was the bearded Muslim at the gate, Saber Sarhan Askar.
Skinny with hawk-like hazelnut eyes, Askar is said by Dalga’s Christians to have taken part in the torching and looting of the monastery. Outside the monastery that day, Askar was telling priests he was there to protect it. But the orders he yelled to other priests left no doubt who was in charge.
“Bring us tea!” he barked at one priest. “I need something cold to drink!” he screamed at another soon after.
To my knowledge, this is the only incident of pro-Morsi supporters gaining a foothold in a local area. Elsewhere, they are on the run. Still, the security apparatus has tasked itself with a heavy burden.
How much blood will be shed recovering this village? If the state of the nation and economy does not improve over the next several months, might their be similar mutinies elsewhere? The state, in general, was weak before the revolution, and is weaker now.
Dalga is the only current example, and is likely to remain so. But the question is open. What will the future hold?
From the AP. Earlier I highlighted the Muslim grassroots leader of the Rebel Campaign which collected a reported 22 million signatures calling for early presidential elections. Here is one of his many activists – a Christian – who has now paid with his life:
With a mob of Muslim extremists on their tail, the Christian businessman and his nephew climbed up on the roof and ran for their lives, jumping from building to building in their southern Egyptian village. Finally they ran out of rooftops.
Forced back onto the street, they were overwhelmed by several dozen men. The attackers hacked them with axes and beat them with clubs and tree limbs, killing Emile Naseem, 41. The nephew survived with wounds to his shoulders and head and recounted the chase to The Associated Press.
The mob’s rampage through the village of Nagaa Hassan, burning dozens of Christian houses and stabbing to death three other Christians as well, came two days after the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power. It was no coincidence the attackers focused on Naseem and his family: He was the village’s most prominent campaigner calling for Morsi’s removal.
Naseem’s friends and family say he was targeted because of his activism against Morsi. In the months before Morsi’s ouster, he was energetically collecting signatures in the village for Tamarod, or “Rebel,” the youth-led activist campaign that collected signatures nationwide on a petition demanding Morsi’s removal. It organized the June 30 protests that brought out millions.
“Emile was the de facto Tamarod leader in the village and that did not escape the notice of the militants,” said Naseem’s best friend and fellow activist Emile Nazeer. “He, like other activists, received threatening text messages for weeks before he was killed.”
“Almost everyone in Nagaa Hassan loved my uncle. He spoke a lot about politics and people listened to what he had to say,” said el-Ameer, Naseem’s nephew. “He paid the price.”
Click here to read the rest of the article and its sordid details. Ugh.
From my recent article at Christian Century. It walks through the transition which brought Morsi to power and thereafter deposed him. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion, focusing on the position of Christians:
As for the nation’s Christians, they view the military intervention as salvation. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros, who had pledged upon his ascension to the papacy to stay out of politics, appeared side by side with Egypt’s chief Muslim leader to back the move. Protestants appreciated this as a public signal of Christian equality, while the Anglican bishop rejoiced Egypt was now free of the ‘repressive rule’ of the Brotherhood.
But are such public celebrations wisdom? In the fluid chaos of Egypt’s transition, who is to say the situation will not flip again? Copts are very careful to align with the nation’s moderate Muslims; dare they align with an extra-constitutional putsch against a large swath of religiously conservative neighbors? As citizens they are free, but as an ever-vulnerable religious minority will they find sufficient protection in the army and a hopeful emerging civil democratic order?
Perhaps they have no choice. Perhaps they see more clearly than anyone the issues at stake under Islamist rule. Only a year and a half earlier they suffered their greatest massacre at the hands of the army, when a Coptic protest was crushed under military tanks. Still, they took refuge.
This is the same question now faced by Egyptians as a whole, and as such the transition becomes more of a revolution proper. Islamist or civil; religious or secular – inasmuch as these are false dichotomies they also represent the current struggle. All that is lacking for a true revolution is violence; for the sake of Muslims and Christians together, may this development not come to pass.
Please click here to read the whole article at Christian Century.
From my article in Christianity Today, published July 9, describing both Christians and Muslims killed in a worrisome escalation of violence. But this excerpt concerns another matter for Christians in particular: Should they have joined the revolt in the first place, on Biblical grounds?
Bishop Mouneer also called the [military] action an answer to prayer, which raises certain theological questions. In Romans 13 Paul writes that Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does Christian participation in a popular uprising strain this interpretation?
“The leader must support human rights,” said Bishop Marcos. “Because Morsi did not it was acceptable to work against him.”
A more nuanced position is articulated by Rev. Emad Mikhail, president of the Alexandria School of Theology.
“The Bible in the first century does not address the situation of free expression as we have in many places today,” he said. “There was no voting and no means to change the system except through violent action.
“If we vote out a president [as in modern elections] this is not understood to violate Romans 13. I consider peaceful demonstrations to be like a vote.”
Please click here to read the whole article at Christianity Today.
When push comes to shove, as it has in Egypt, who should American Christians support? The recent military move to oust an elected president was almost universally backed by Egyptian Coptic Christians, which make up roughly ten percent of the population. But the move, called by many a military coup, also violates our profound democratic sensibilities. With forty-two dead today at the hands of the army – which claims it was attacked first by armed terrorists – basic issues of humanity are also in play.
‘Our citizenship is in heaven,’ writes the apostle Paul, seemingly elevating our Christian brotherhood above national ties or ideological convictions. But, he writes elsewhere, ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.’
President Muhammad Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was removed from office on July 3 following massive protests against his rule. The proximity to America’s Independence Day only heightens the tension of this question, demanding an introspection we are often loathe to consider. Before we sit in judgment on Egypt, was our own revolution contrary to God’s teaching?
But does not the Bible also demand a commitment to justice and solidarity with the rights of the oppressed? Certainly, and Egyptian Christians would be quick to assert the necessity of the putsch, not just for their own cause, but for millions of Egyptian Muslims beside.
The article then summarizes the situation in Egypt, and concludes:
Perhaps the most important question is this: No matter their fears, would aggrieved non-Islamists have done better to work within the system, no matter how flawed?
This last question is of political strategy, and Egypt’s Christians have clearly answered ‘no’. What now of American Christians?
It is important to note that American democracy – though also flawed for much of our history – has peacefully rotated power for over two centuries. Egypt is still trying to find its feet after a revolution. The American constitution, after all, followed thirteen years after independence.
Egypt currently is a political mess; within chaos, minorities are vulnerable. Christians have been used by all sides as a talking point. Liberals highlight their difficulties, the Muslim Brotherhood pays lip service to their equality, Islamist allies scapegoat them in conspiracies, and the old regime propaganda – ever present – erects the extremist boogeyman to maintain order.
Within this picture, American Christians have little to identify with. Our two options mirror our dual identity: As Americans, esteem the democracy; as Christians, condemn the persecution. Unfortunately, neither option correctly describes Egypt. Either one is a false choice.
What then, is the Biblical choice? Consider these words of Paul, perhaps to balance his advice given above: ‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”’
The American Christian responsibility is not to take sides, nor to assert abstract principles. It is to find out what is happening, and support the light.
Whether through influence in Washington, or through influence in prayer, American Christian hope must be that Egypt will rise from the dead.
Does this latest episode help or hinder? Make Egypt visible, and then judge accordingly.
Please click here to read the whole article at Relevant Magazine.
John Stott was an Anglican writer and student of the Scriptures.
Christianity Today reprinted a sermon he gave on “Four Ways Christians can influence the world.”
Then, someone asked on Twitter, and @Copticorphans retweeted: “How does this apply to Copts in Egypt?” How can Copts move “beyond mere survival” to more truly become salt and light in society around them?
The blog then goes on to provide an excerpt of the sermon, which can be found here and is worth reading no matter what country you reside in.
The tweet, however, was mine.
In my best effort of humblebrag, I currently have 361 followers on Twitter. Please click here if you would like to increase the number, and here to read my reflection upon joining Twitter for the first time, in April 2011.
I am still slow to own a smart phone, though they are readily available in Egypt. Perhaps soon; after all, we’ll all have them in a few years. But because of this my tweeting is usually reserved for offering comments as I read articles on the internet, primarily of Egyptian news. I imagine most of these disappear into cyberspace; sometimes someone’s retweet makes me smile.
But that tweet, about John Stott, found an audience. It was then turned into a blog post on one of the most popular Coptic charity organizations. From there, who knows? It is bread upon the water.
One of my hopes for the Copts is that they might find the courage and faith to emerge from an often insular mentality, serving and blessing their society. Perhaps the cards are stacked against them as a minority, but salt is always a minority in the food it preserves.
But if they realize this, they can also be light, of which minority/majority makes no difference at all. Light, once lit, dispels darkness. It is its very nature.
One small tweet, but it found the administrator of a blog. From there it found readers of a blog. And from there perhaps it stimulated conversations among Copts around the world.
All humblebrag, perhaps, or a narcissistic search for relevancy. But perhaps it is also a reminder that within the scope of influence we have, we should speak. Ideas have power, but they must be heard.
Or tweeted. The world is changing, and surely tweeting will never be a substitute for ordinary human communication. But as a means among many, why not?
There is much that Egyptian Muslims and Christians agree upon, much which unites the two and allows them to pray similarly. But at one point the religions are rather irreconcilable: Jesus was not crucified, and therefore was not resurrected. There is no Easter, celebrated by Copts this coming Sunday.
Fair enough. There are plenty of common troubles in Egypt these days. But Easter risks becoming another one, a further point of division in a polarized nation.
God, may it not be so.
The Egyptian status quo of good neighborliness has Muslims and Christians exchange greetings on all their holidays. The Muslim purist status quo of Islamic fidelity forbids congratulating religious error. Both have been around for some time.
The purists have generally been confined to Salafis, but now the Muslim Brotherhood is caught in the middle. Their mufti has given allowance to greet on Christmas, but Easter should be avoided.
The middle ground makes some sense, as Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet born miraculously from the Virgin Mary. But in Muslim eyes Christians are in religious error to hold the prophet born as the Son of God; why should neighborliness cover one and not the other?
God, bless the purists and give them wisdom and discernment. Honor them for fidelity to unpopular conviction, especially as many behave as good neighbors every day of the year. Give them love for these neighbors even as they seek to guide them to the right path. May it be for the sake of truth, and involve no division or discrimination.
God, bless the Copts as they interpret this refusal as a public insult. Honor them for fidelity to minority religion, especially as many esteem Muslims for their faith every day of the year. Give them patience and grace for those who find offense in them. May it result in greater love between all and honest discussion in that which divides.
But for all who play with the issue, God, issue your divine condemnation. Some purists seek to isolate the Copts and those who stand with them. Some non-Islamists seek to demonize their opponents as agents of social disintegration. Where accusations are true may you muffle their voice and end their influence.
The Easter issue does not warrant such rhetoric, God; calm things down. If you gave your son to be crucified your followers can take an insult. If you alone rescued your prophet from violent rejection your followers can allow you to continue this battle.
God, you know best the truths of religion, but you know also the needs of Egypt. Help the people to mind the balance, finding both in love and unity.
As the world community condemned the recent bombings in Boston, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm joined the chorus.
“The Freedom and Justice Party categorically rejects as intolerable the bombings committed in the US city of Boston,” reported Ikhwanweb, the official English website of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The FJP offers heartfelt sympathies and solemn condolences to the American people and the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.”
But, as many have complained, in Arabic the thought was different, expressed by a prominent leader on Facebook:
Erian proceeds to establish a timeline of suspicious violence, from Mali to Syria to Somalia to Kurdistan. No further mention is made of Boston, and he is led to questioning.
“Who disturbed democratic transformations, despite the difficult transition from despotism, corruption, poverty, hatred, and intolerance to freedom, justice tolerance, development, human dignity, and social justice?
“Who planted Islamophobia through research, the press, and the media?
“Who funded the violence?”
Erian’s musings on conspiracy are nowhere to be found on the Brotherhood’s English language websites.
But the focus of the article is to highlight a new blog which is translating questionable material on Brotherhood websites, both current and from their archive. It turns up gems like this one:
For example, an FJP article described “a growing case of hatred of the majority of Copts towards Islamists in general,” and “the Coptic spirit of hatred for everything Islamic.” The article concerned anti-Brotherhood chants during the funeral, but failed to condemn the subsequent attacks on the mourners exiting the cathedral.
From the conclusion, describing the blog’s grand goals, but subtle methods:
“Part of our appeal is that we make it very neutral – not in selection, but in translation,” said Carr. “We’re challenging the Muslim Brotherhood, but in an indirect way, we want it to be subtle.”
It is both subtle and a challenge, but Dabh and Carr are committed, expecting either the best – or the worst.
“We’ll continue until the Brotherhood falls or we fall,” said Carr. With a laugh she continued, “Or get shot.”
Please click here to read the full article on Egypt Source, and here to visit the mbinenglish website.
On March 28, 2013 Fox News broadcast an incendiary video report entitled, ‘US Silent as Christians are Persecuted in Egypt?’ It is understood that media relies on a level of sensationalism in order to attract the viewer or reader to a story. Yet this report moves beyond sensationalism to distortion, in which elements of truth are stretched to create an impression far removed from reality.
I watched this report after friends and family brought it to my attention. I’m sorry to say it made my blood boil. Several months ago I published a report on AWR examining if the Muslim Brotherhood was crucifying its opponents, but this alleged incident was reported only by fringe and internet-based sources. Here, we’re talking Fox News! Certainly it is known that the station has a conservative bent, but this video makes it seem as if they are pushing an agenda.
Egyptian news coverage is generally of poor quality, un-sourced, and designed to shape opinion rather than inform. Here, Fox News does its best impression. I have heard similar descriptions of US stations MSNBC, and to a lesser degree, CNN, only from the liberal side. I am fearful the American public has entered an era in which news is meant to entertain and confirm opinions, rather than to educate and challenge them.
I am also dreading this aspect of being back in America for an upcoming visit.
Of course, something very terrible appears to have taken place in this mosque in Cairo, and to a Christian in particular. From al-Monitor:
During the clashes that erupted last Friday [March 22] between the Muslim Brotherhood and protesters in Mokattam, the Brotherhood arrested left-wing activist Kamal Khalil and detained him inside a mosque. He saw a number of demonstrators stripped of their clothes and brutally flogged in the mosque, to the point that most of them lost consciousness. Brotherhood members were using a big whip to strike their victims. Khalil asked the flogger [about it], who replied: “It’s a Sudanese whip. I soaked it in oil a while ago. … A single strike can cut through skin.”
Luckily, Khalil recognized his neighbor from among the Brotherhood members, who intervened and prevented him from being tortured. Yet, Khalil posted his testimony about the Brotherhood’s slaughterhouse on the website of Al-Bedaiah newspaper. Soon after, the testimonies from victims published in newspapers confirmed that they had been brutally tortured. Amir Ayad, a demonstrator, revealed that when the Brotherhood found out that he was a Copt, they increased the severity of his torture, pushing him to the brink of death as they called him a “Christian dog.”
But excerpting from my report:
Broadcaster leads with words, ‘We were not able to independently confirm this reporting by Mideast Christian News’ which claims ‘Islamic hardliners stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo and turned it into a torture chamber for Christians’
If news is not able to be confirmed by a reputable news agency, it should not be repeated, and certainly not the lead story. At least they mention this detail up front.
Mideast Christian News did not report about a torture chamber for Christians, however, as best I could research following their newsfeed. On March 23 they ran an article featuring testimony from Amir Ayad, a Coptic activist. He related how he was ambushed by the Muslim Brotherhood during the clashes and tortured in a mosque in Muqattam.
Muqattam is the suburban Cairo neighborhood mentioned by Fox News. It hosts the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood and as such was the site of an anti-Brotherhood protest. The administration of the mosque in question publically confirmed that Islamist activists took over the facilities and turned it into a detention center.
A similar incident took place during the clashes at the presidential palace in protest of President Mursī’s declaration immunizing his decisions from judicial review during the controversy over the drafting of Egypt’s constitution. Muslim Brotherhood members attacked a small but peaceful sit-in at the palace, which led into large-scale confrontations between the two sides. During the clashes the Muslim Brotherhood also created detention centers in adjacent facilities, though not in a mosque.
Details and testimony about what happened at both events is contradictory, but it appears likely the Brotherhood or supporting Islamists assumed police-like prerogative to apprehend protestors – perhaps rioters – on the opposing side. Furthermore, there is no reason to dismiss the testimony of Ayad that he was tortured; the article includes a picture of him in the hospital suffering from multiple wounds.
The protest at the Brotherhood headquarters, however, was not a Christian protest, it was political. Ayad, as a Christian, was detained, perhaps along with other Christian protesters. The great majority of protestors, and therefore detainees, however, were Muslim, consistent with the makeup of Egyptian society.
For Fox News to report this incident as a mosque transformed into a torture center for Christians – with none of the context of these recent clashes – is an egregious distortion of a story terrible in its own right.
And finally, showing an element of the Fox News report which is absolutely contrary to reality, and would be known by anyone who spent any time in Egypt at all apart from the pyramids:
Peters continues, saying Miller went to the Coptic quarter where the Christians live. It’s a shabby slum where they are third-class – not second-class – citizens
It is fair to ask what Miller believes is the difference between a second- and third-class citizen. Clearly this is only a rhetorical device. But it is in service either of wanton ignorance or clear distortion. There is no ‘Christian quarter’ in Egypt or any of its cities. Christians are spread everywhere throughout the country.
Perhaps he was referring to the district of Shubra in Cairo, which has a large percentage of Coptic residents. Shubra is a lower- to lower-middle-class neighborhood, but it is hardly a slum. If it is, it is equally populated by Christians and Muslims together.
Or perhaps he had in mind Heliopolis, which also has a large percentage of Coptic residents, but is one of the wealthier districts of the city. In either case, these areas are characterized by the best relations between Muslims and Christians, as they grew up together in an integrated community. They are far from second-class citizens. They are neighbors.
Please click here to watch the original video, and here to read the rest of my point-by-enraged-point rebuttal (and occasional agreement).
Many Egyptian Christians wear their faith on their sleeve—literally. The cross tattooed on the wrist of Coptic Orthodox believers is a public display which marks their identity for all to see.
Such a quiet witness usually avoids reproach. But recently in Libya, radical Muslim militias detained dozens of expatriate Christians in Benghazi. Amid allegations that captors seared off such tattoos with acid, one Christian died from medical complications during the ordeal, and a Libyan church was repeatedly attacked.
Accusations of evangelism have been at the heart of a series of recent incidents of violence—including the first Coptic martyrs of the modern era—against Copts in Libya, Sudan, and Egypt. Which raises the question: Are Copts starting to recover their missionary heritage?
This article was co-written with a colleague from Sudan, who mentioned the following incident:
Last December, two Coptic Orthodox priests were arrested after baptizing a female convert from Islam. Since the arrests, stories about arrests of Westerners and other Christians attempting to spread the faith circulated in media linked to the state security apparatus, although the accuracy of the reports is hard to ascertain.
Though some Sudanese Copts have enjoyed business success under the Islamist government of President Omar al-Bashir, other denominations have seen their churches destroyed either by mobs or by the state, which cites the breaching of planning laws. With the independence of South Sudan removing the great majority of the nation’s Christians, Bashir has promised a 100-percent Islamic constitution.
Tensions are high also in some Egyptian villages:
There are signs Muslims feel threatened in Egypt as well. Recently churches have been attacked in Beni Suef and Aswan over female converts to Christianity alleged to be hidden inside. Generally this is understood as a Muslim community effort to save face when a woman breaks community traditions or runs away with a lover. Others think true faith might have a role.
“It is an untold story that every now and then a Muslim can be convinced and convert to Christianity,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. “It is always done secretly, but somehow here it became public. In Upper Egypt especially, this creates a social scandal regardless of the direction of the conversion.”
But far from politically and religiously sensitive conversions in Muslim lands, the Coptic Orthodox Church maintains missionary bishoprics in sub-Saharan Africa:
The reality is the Coptic Orthodox Church remains committed to planting churches—just not in the direction of Muslims. In the 1970s, Pope Shenouda consecrated the first of two bishops for service in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, 65 churches serve more than 400,000 Copts in Kenya, Zambia, Congo, and other nations.
“The early riches of the Orthodox tradition are spreading again in Africa,” said Antonious Marcos, appointed missionary bishop to Kenya in 1976 and now based in South Africa. “Our church is a missionary church, because it was started by a non-Egyptian: John Mark.”
This was a very interesting article to research and write, showing a side of Coptic Christians often not well known in the West. As for the question in the title, are they recovering their evangelistic impulse: Well, they are accused, it seems some are, and reality is just as murky as with Christians around the world.
Please click here to read the full article on Christianity Today.